Tina Hall did not have high expectations when she entered her manuscript The Physics of Imaginary Objects into competition for the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, an annual award — one of the nation’s most prestigious — given by the University of Pittsburgh Press. “I wasn’t really hopeful,” says the associate professor of English, and understandably so, given the stiff competition; her work was among some 350 book-length entries submitted for adjudication by author and film critic Renata Adler. But it was Hall’s collection of experimental short stories that Adler and the press named as its most outstanding manuscript of 2010, earning Hall a cash award and publication of her work.
The collection, which Hall describes as “a cabinet of curiosities,” is the result of 10 years of working and reworking stories. Her unique writing style blurs the line between prose and verse, with short, lyrical pieces focusing on the roles of negative space, rhythm and language in fiction. Critics frequently compare her work to poetry. Hall responds, “I think it’s a great compliment, but at heart I know I’m a fiction writer. The sentence is the unit of meaning I like to play with.”
As a new school year begins, Hall observes that teaching creative writing workshops at Hamilton has shaped her own writing. Her distinctive style of short, expressive pieces, dense with meaning, is a byproduct of the demanding schedule of writing and teaching simultaneously. Hall sees writing as “something that goes alongside teaching,” and the student-professor relationship as one of mutual inspiration. “It’s nice for students to see working writers,” she says, “and I’m inspired by seeing young writers working on things they’re passionate about.”